Sunday, July 22, 2007


There isn't much to say about the high-speed train from Brussels to Paris other than "it's really fast". That and I met two business and agriculture students from Uzbekistan named Nuri and Share (I'm probably transliterating their names wrong).

Paris is another place like New York City or London that hosts a variety of different cultures and languages and makes me wonder: what makes a city a city? If the definition of a city has anything to do with the characteristics of the people who live there, these melting pot places make me think there will come a day when communication and travel will be so ubiquitous we stop thinking about "cities" and group people and space in other terms.

The cheapest hostel I could find that was still close to a metro stop was a block and a half from the Louvre. In a strange mirroring of fates, I met two more Aussies named Josh and Alex, and a Southern Californian named Austin who had just been in Southeast Asia.

With my backpack off my shoulders, I went for a walk. Past Le Louvre, over Le Seine, to Le Cafe a few blocks away. I don't remember the name of the Cafe, I think it said "Flores" on one of its menus. There are so many cafes in Paris, I stopped at this one because I was tired of walking and it was on a nice busy corner. I saw something called a "Caesar salad" that was most certainly not Caesar (there was steak in it, but more essentially, there were no anchovies in the dressing and a poached egg sat in the center). That said, it was excellent. Though I'm no connoisseur, I had a Bordeaux with it that was one of the best wines I've ever had. Though that may have just been my tongue, which last tasted food in Delft.

I got to bed early, which is good because the next day was tremendous. I woke up at 7:45 to go to the Louvre with the three other guys from my dorm, and the line was less than 20 minutes. Of course we went to the Mona Lisa first, when only 20 people were surrounding it. We saw a lot of other amazing art, but the Mona Lisa stuck with me. Or rather, the crowd around it stuck with me. I think it's really interesting how art is "ordained" by aficionados and the general public. There were plenty of other really impressive pieces in the museum, but everyone gathered around the few famous ones: the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Victory of Samothrace, etc. When the other guys left I went back to see the Mona Lisa again. There were maybe 80 people around it, so I waited and found my way to front and center. It was mad and wonderful. An art mosh pit.

I walked to the Notre Dame cathedral and grabbed a panini on the way there. There's a great garden just to the east of the Cathedral, where I took a nap for a while before heading back to the dorm.

I was planning on just writing for the rest of the day, but back at the hostel I met Pierre. He just got a job as a teacher in Paris and was looking for an apartment. He was just about to go to the Museum d'Orsay to meet some friends and see the exhibit "Cezanne to Picasso", so I went with him. We went the other way first and stopped at a cafe. "What beer do the French drink?" I asked. "The real French drink Belgian beer. But don't let them know." he said, with a very thick French accent. So we had a Belgian beer, "Leff". We talked about language and culture differences and played the game "spot the tourist". Outside the museum the game got easier: the tourists were the ones who stopped to look at the street artist's work. The museum was wonderful; I like Gauguin and Cezanne, but also a group vaguely related group called "Nabis" I didn't know about. After the exhibition Pierre and his friends went for drinks and I stayed to wander the museum some more. My favorites were the three or four rooms dedicated to Art Nouveau furniture and art, and the entire top floor just for Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.

At this point the sun would set in the next half hour, so I walked to the Eiffel tower, which seemed about a mile away. The lines were ridiculous of course, so I just walked around appreciating the strange structure.

Pierre had recommended I see Montmarte, which I knew from the movie "Amelie", with the scene where she follows the arrows up the mountain. I rushed over on subway and practically ran to the top. I reminded myself "it's not the hand", and ran back to the subway to catch it before they stopped running at midnight. Montmarte is a really sketchy area at night when you're further down the mountain side, but it's wonderful at the top.

The next day was dedicated mainly for traveling from Paris to Lyon. And having a fresh baked croissant in Paris. I was hoping to reserve a high speed train, but they were all taken. So I left Paris at 4:00 in the afternoon and arrived in Lyon 9:00. I knew where the hostel was, so I just had to follow the map. This wasn't so easy, the streets have to underlying structure and, as in Amsterdam and Delft, the rain was following me. After walking half a kilometer south and a a hundred meters uphill, I found the hostel and soaked in the view from the hostel's balcony. I met some people, a mechanical engineer from New Zealand and a teacher from Philadelphia, and we talked about where we'd been and where we were going. A good ending to a long day.

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